The Organ of the Maurice Ravel Auditorium In Lyon,...

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The Organ of the Maurice Ravel Auditorium In Lyon, France by Tom Nichol yon, in east-central France, contains, among its many artistic treasures, an almost forgotten, yet quite significant, musical instrument—namely, the organ of the Maurice Ravel Auditorium. This article will give a brief history of this marvelous instrument, along with its current and original specifi- cations. L For the Paris World Exposition of 1878, the renowned French organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, was commissioned to build a concert organ for the new Trocadéro concert hall, under the supervision of renowned organist and composer Alexandre Guilmant. Because he could not build the organ from scratch in the short time allowed by the contract, he was compelled to use an uncompleted three-manu- al organ originally intended for the Church of Notre Dame in Auteuil, a district in the northwestern area of Paris, as the basis for the new instrument. A fourth manual and more pedal stops were added. The now-completed instrument was enclosed in what by modern standards would be an incredibly ugly case in imitation Classical style, including towers and turrets. The new organ was inaugurated by a roster of France’s greatest organists, including not only Guilmant, but also César Franck, who wrote his “Three Pieces for Organ,” and particularly the “Pièce héroïque,” especially for the occasion. In addition, Guil- mant performed a series of solo recitals on the Trocadéro organ, which brought his enormous talent to the notice of an international public. Despite this notoriety, however, it soon became apparent that the acoustics of the Trocadéro were far from perfect, particularly where the organ was concerned. Numerous reports, articles, and reviews complained, not only of dry overall acoustics but especially of a mysterious echo, which could neither be traced nor corrected. Thus, it was in fact a relief to organ devotees when the government of the City
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  • The Organ of the Maurice Ravel Auditorium In Lyon, France

    by

    Tom Nichol

    yon, in east-central France, contains, among its many artistic treasures, an almost forgotten, yetquite significant, musical instrument—namely, the organ of the Maurice Ravel Auditorium. This

    article will give a brief history of this marvelous instrument, along with its current and original specifi-cations.

    LFor the Paris World Exposition of 1878, the renowned French organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll,was commissioned to build a concert organ for the new Trocadéro concert hall, under the supervisionof renowned organist and composer Alexandre Guilmant. Because he could not build the organ fromscratch in the short time allowed by the contract, he was compelled to use an uncompleted three-manu-al organ originally intended for the Church of Notre Dame in Auteuil, a district in the northwestern areaof Paris, as the basis for the new instrument. A fourth manual and more pedal stops were added. Thenow-completed instrument was enclosed in what by modern standards would be an incredibly ugly casein imitation Classical style, including towers and turrets. The new organ was inaugurated by a roster ofFrance’s greatest organists, including not only Guilmant, but also César Franck, who wrote his “ThreePieces for Organ,” and particularly the “Pièce héroïque,” especially for the occasion. In addition, Guil-mant performed a series of solo recitals on the Trocadéro organ, which brought his enormous talent tothe notice of an international public.

    Despite this notoriety, however, it soon became apparent that the acoustics of the Trocadéro were farfrom perfect, particularly where the organ was concerned. Numerous reports, articles, and reviewscomplained, not only of dry overall acoustics but especially of a mysterious echo, which could neitherbe traced nor corrected. Thus, it was in fact a relief to organ devotees when the government of the City

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    of Paris decided to tear down the Trocadéro in 1937 to make way for a new concert hall for the ParisWorld’s Fair of 1939, to be known as the “Palais de Chaillot.” The organ was carefully dismantled andstored away while the building’s architects pondered how to reinstall it in such a way as to show it offto best advantage in concerts, yet not have it be in the way when the Auditorium was used for otherpurposes.

    The solution they decided upon was an ingenious one: The organ and its mechanism was mounted on amovable iron platform, which, in turn, was mounted on rails, permitting the 70-metric-ton organ to bebrought forward for solo performances, moved part-way back for use with other instruments, or to bemoved all the way against the back wall when it was not to be used at all. The modern, movable con-sole was connected to the organ by a huge, flexible conduit. This unusual placement made it possible toarrange organ and instruments to the best musical and acoustical advantage, eliminating problems ofensemble and balance which so often plague such performances.

    Despite these advantages, however, two major flies in the ointment, so to speak, soon made their pres-ence known. First, the acoustics were even drier than those of the old Trocadéro. Second, and muchmore serious to many organ lovers, the organ had been rebuilt and substantially altered by the firm ofV. and F. Gonzalez, who were notoriously unsympathetic to the organs of Cavaillé-Coll. The sound thatresulted was changed from warmly Romantic to a screaming neo-Baroque in character. In spite of this,however, the legendary American organ virtuoso Virgil Fox recorded Belgian composer Joseph Jon-gen’s “Symphonie Concertante,” opus 78, on this instrument in 1959, with the celebrated Paris OperaOrchestra, conducted by Georges Prêtre, to worldwide acclaim.

    Just 18 years later, however, in 1977, the Paris city government decided to tear down the Palais deChaillot, replacing it with a parking garage. Once again, the organ was carefully removed and placed instorage, while a new home was sought in which to place it. Happily, the city government of Lyon pur-chased the organ, installing it in the then new Maurice Ravel Auditorium. The firm of Danion-Gonza-lez, successors to the Victor and Francois Gonzalez team, was selected to perform the installation. Dueto space limitations, several controversial changes were made this time around. The swell box was re-moved from the Positif division, the lowest 12 pipes of the 32-foot Principal in the Pedal division werereplaced with stopped pipes, and all of the wooden pipes were painted silver! Finally, the organ wasfurnished with a new, portable console, equipped with a modern solid-state combination action. Theagain-revised instrument was the subject of several excellent recordings by the late Professor PatriceCaire, of the Lyon Conservatoire, none of which, sadly, are now available.

    After Professor Caire’s untimely death in 1992 at the age of 43, the organ fell into a period of disuseand decline, which lasted until 2010, when the local organ building firm of Aubertin was chosen to re-build and restore the organ, under the direction of organist Michel Gaillard. Once again, severalchanges were made. The Solo division was revised with the addition of a 9-rank mixture stop, as wellas two “en chamade” trumpets named “Gaillardes,” after the new designer. Also, the original 32-footContra Bombarde in the Pedal was replaced with a lighter-sounding 32-foot Contre Basson. The 4 man-ual console was also updated with a new and larger combination action. The organ was completed andre-inaugurated in 2013 and continues in active use under Monsieur Gaillard’s enthusiastic direction.Sadly, however, this magnificent and historic instrument has been all but ignored by recording compa-nies, despite its historic and musical significance. Hopefully, some recording company will realize theenormous capabilities and potential of this magnificent instrument, and bring it back before the musicalpublic through at least one new recording, or even a video or two!

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    The specification as of 2013 is given below Note: For the benefit of those who do not read or speakFrench, I have reorganized this specification in conformity with the standards of the American Guild ofOrganists. The original compass of 56 manual and 30 pedal keys was expanded to 61/32 when Gonza-lez rebuilt the organ in 1939 for the now-defunct Palais de Chaillot.

    Cavaillé-Coll (1878), Gonzalez (1939), Danion-Gonzalez (1977), Aubertin (2010)

    I. Grand Orgue (Great)Bourdon 32Montre 16Montre 8 (II below C)Violoncelle 8Flute harmonique 8Bourdon 8Grosse Quinte 5-1/3Flute a bec 4Prestant 4Grosse Tierce 3-1/5Cornet VFourniture IIPlein-jeu IVCymbale IVBombarde 16Trompette 8Clairon 4

    II. Positif (Crowning division, located at the top of the organ, unenclosed)Portunal 16Principal 8Bourdon 8Viole d’amour 8Suavial 8 (celeste)Flute 4Prestant 4Quinte 2-2/3Doublette 2Tierce 1-3/5Larigot 1-1/3Plein-jeu VFagott 16Trompette 8Cromorne 8Dulciane 8

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    III. Récit Expressif (Swell)Quintaton 16Flute harmonique 8Cor de nuit 8Gambe 8Voix celeste 8Aeoline 8Flute 4 Octavin 2Nasard conique 2-2/3Tierce conique 1-3/5Septieme 1-1/7Piccolo 1Plein-jeu VBombarde 16Trompette 8Basson-Hautbois 8Voix humaine 8Clairon 4

    IV. Solo (Blockwerk/Trompeteria) (enclosed except where noted)Bourdon 16Flute 8Diapason 8 (II ranks)Principal 4Progression IXCornet VTuba Magna 16Trompette 8Clarinette 8Clairon 4Gaillarde 8 (en chamade—unenclosed)Gaillarde 4 (en chamade—unenclosed)

    PedalPrincipal 32 (lowest 12 notes stopped)Flute 16Contrebasse 16Soubasse 16Principal 8Flute 8Bourdon 8Octave 4Flute 4Mixture VContrebasson 32Ophicleide 16Posaune 16Buzene 8Trompette 8Clairon 4Basson 4

    Couplers and AccessoriesManual Couplers: II/I, III/I, IV/I; III/II, IV/II; IV/III.Pedal Couplers: Grand-Orgue/Pedal, Positif/Pedal, Recit/Pedal, Solo/Pedal.Mixture Ventils: Grand-Orgue, Positif, Recit, Solo.Reed Ventils: Grand-Orgue, Positif, Recit, Solo, Pedale.TremulantCancels for each divisionGeneral cancelTutti for each divisionTutti I (plein-jeu)Tutti II (Full Organ)Expression pedals for Recit and Solo divisionsCrescendo pedalElectro-pneumatic playing actionElectronic combination action with 6,750 available combinations (450 x 15 memory levels)Sequencer

    Total of 82 stops, 119 ranks, approximately 6, 500 pipes

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    The fountains and exterior of The Trocadéro

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    The interior of the concert hall with organ

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    Closer view of the organ case

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    This specification for the original Cavaillé-Coll organ is taken from Toward an Authentic Interpretationof the Organ Works of César Franck, by Rollin Smith, published by Pendragon Press, 1983.

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    Recordings and Video

    There are few recordings of the organ in its current form, but for those interested in what is available toread and hear online, I offer these links for your enjoyment. All of them were active in May of 2016.

    A slideshow with performance of the Dubois Toccata in G played by Patrice Caire from 1977https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAmkAi8WnC0

    Inside of the Ravel Auditorium and performance of the Duruflé Toccata played by Aymeric Lefevrehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc6yGGFRKZ8 An audio recording of Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 played by Vincent Warnier and conducted by Leonard Slatkin released in 2015

    Blu-ray Audio: http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=NBD0045 CD: http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.573331 A review by “The Classical Reviewer”

    http://theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.com/2015/02/a-new-release-from-naxos-with-organist.html A review by John Sunier

    http://www.audaud.com/saint-saens-danse-macabre-cypres-et-lauriers-symphony-no-3-in-c-minor-organ-vincent-warnier-organ-orch-national-de-lyon-leonard-slatkin-naxos-pure-audio-blu-ray/

    A concert of the above program was reviewed by Colin Anderson in 2013http://www.classicalsource.com/db_control/db_concert_review.php?id=11565

    There is an excerpt from the concert from Medici Televisionhttp://www.medici.tv/#!/leonard-slatkin-orchestre-national-de-lyon-organ-concert-poulenc-saint-saens

    A short video of the chambers and pipes in Frenchhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVwgv_Za12U

    Daniel Roth played a recital on Sunday, May 22, 2015http://www.auditorium-lyon.com/Programmation-15-16/Orgue/Recitals-orgue/Recital-Daniel-Roth

    French Wikipedia contains much information and includes a listing of recordings https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orgue_de_l'Auditorium_Maurice-Ravel

    (some editing and research by D. John Apple, michaelsmusicservice.com)

    http://michaelsmusicservice.com/https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orgue_de_l'Auditorium_Maurice-Ravelhttp://www.auditorium-lyon.com/Programmation-15-16/Orgue/Recitals-orgue/Recital-Daniel-Rothhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVwgv_Za12Uhttp://www.medici.tv/#!/leonard-slatkin-orchestre-national-de-lyon-organ-concert-poulenc-saint-saenshttp://www.classicalsource.com/db_control/db_concert_review.php?id=11565http://www.audaud.com/saint-saens-danse-macabre-cypres-et-lauriers-symphony-no-3-in-c-minor-organ-vincent-warnier-organ-orch-national-de-lyon-leonard-slatkin-naxos-pure-audio-blu-ray/http://www.audaud.com/saint-saens-danse-macabre-cypres-et-lauriers-symphony-no-3-in-c-minor-organ-vincent-warnier-organ-orch-national-de-lyon-leonard-slatkin-naxos-pure-audio-blu-ray/http://www.audaud.com/saint-saens-danse-macabre-cypres-et-lauriers-symphony-no-3-in-c-minor-organ-vincent-warnier-organ-orch-national-de-lyon-leonard-slatkin-naxos-pure-audio-blu-ray/http://theclassicalreviewer.blogspot.com/2015/02/a-new-release-from-naxos-with-organist.htmlhttp://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.573331http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=NBD0045https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc6yGGFRKZ8https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAmkAi8WnC0